Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cincinnati Reds PWMBA: Johnny Cueto

Johnny Cueto is a hot shot prospect (age 23) that along with Bailey and Volquez gives the Reds the best young pitching staff in the majors. They are a group of quality pitchers that could carry the Reds to a winning season this year in addition to years to come. What I am doing right now is building them up while everyone wonders how long until I mention that they pitch on a team managed by Dusty Baker and that if he doesn't personally stab each one in the throwing arm it will be a miracle.

Cueto has shown some signs of being excellent with a 90+ mph fastball in addition to a good slider and changeup. He makes good use of all three pitches and has impressive strikeout numbers in every phase of his career.

It is Cueto's other numbers that interest me though and more specifically his major vs. minor league numbers. Cueto threw 174 innings last year (his rookie season) and has 348.1 career minor league innings pitched. His minor league numbers are impressive (particularly his AA numbers of 11.36 K/9 and 1.03 WHIP) but his major league numbers last year show some stark differences.

The following graph compares several rate statistics for Cueto's minor league career vs. his 2008 rookie campaign.

The numbers that stick out most are his HR/9 rate and his BB/9 rate. Cueto's minor league HR/9 rate was 0.62, which is excellent. In the majors last year Cueto gave up 1.5 HR/9. A jump is to be expected when moving up to face better competition but such a significant increase is a bit alarming. It could partially be attributed to park factor; the Great American Ballpark ranked fourth last year in HR. It is important to realize however that his HR/9 in away games last year was still above league average.

It would be one thing to say that Cueto was unlucky last year however his BABIP was only 0.309, barely above league average. It is reasonable to expect his walk totals to come down as he develops his pitches more. He will have to find a way to give up fewer home runs in order to find success in this league. If he struggles early I would not be surprised to see the Reds send him down to AAA to get some more development seeing as how he only has 22.0 IP at that level. It's hard to say what to expect though; whether it's the dominant AA pitcher or the adequate major leaguer. Projections almost universally have him doing roughly the same as he did last year. While his performance was acceptable, it is not the kind of performance that Baker can be expected to ruin.

1 comment:

  1. I get the feeling that the walks, HRs, and ballpark are all inter-twined.

    You are talking about a young pitcher who's a strikeout pitcher and has been so his entire career. Strikeout pitchers always walk more batters and rack up higher pitch counts because it takes more to K a batter.

    Combine that with the increase in competition and you get a young pitcher who is going to fall behind to much better hitters than he's ever face. Given his youth and skills what pitch is he going to fall back on? His fastball. And in the Great American Bandbox it's safe to assume a few more of those fastballs found the seats than anywhere else.